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No. Just No.
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Ricksom need only have waited for my Day 2 report if he wanted to read about tales of anguish and self-doubt. Hope you enjoy the read.

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As the lights went out around Camp Kandalore on the eve of Crank the Shield day 1, all the lights on my personal control panel seemed to be reading green;

  • Respectable performance in the opening stage despite a rougher than planned start - check.
  • Rejuvenating session of massage therapy shortly after the stage finish with Brian Bennett of On-Site Massage Therapy (a fixture at Chico 24 hour events for many years now) to try to coax my wonky back safely through the weekend - ya baby.
  • Stuffed down enough food and liquid both during the stage, at the finish, and at dinner to ensure a supply of calories and nutrients to do it all over again - nailed it.
  • Bike shifting flawlessly throughout all the muck and water of stage 1, and in good shape for stage 2 (or so I thought…) - yes sirree.
  • Was able to access the campsite office's computer for an hour after dinner to write and upload my daily event coverage to editor guy Benjamin Savoy for posting on Pedal Mag's web site the following morning - 10-4 good buddy.
  • Set up in cozy fashion in one of the heated cabins, and even better within a semi-private 2 person room with team mate Ted courtesy of our early finish, armed with my industrial strength earplugs in place of the pedestrian foamies in the Chico race kit, plus my trusty eye mask to block out unwanted light - affirmative.
  • A dreamy night of deep sleep to help launch me on to stage 2 -
Not.

Even.

Close.

Despite having all the building blocks carefully laid out for a full night of rest, when my watch alarm began its infernal beeping the next morning, I swore I had literally slept for only a single hour, if even that much. Every noise, every miniscule shift in the room whether of my own cause or from Ted in the lower bunk seemed to rouse me from any weak semblance of sleep I was trying to maintain. I suffered not only from the actual lack of rest, but was also frustrated and mentally frazzled by my simple failure to adequately shut myself down for the night. It will go down as one of those mysteries of life that has no rhyme or reason, but whatever the cause the effect was the same. I dragged myself to breakfast feeling like a dog's breakfast, fully aware that day 2 was going to be the longest, and most physically taxing of the 3 days. I was cognizant that there were probably many other participants in the same boat, without even having had the advantage of the heated cabin or early selection of prime 2 person room. However, I was still having trouble leaving it behind me and moving on to a more positive frame of mind to continue my stage preparations.

Breakfast followed much the same form as dinner the previous nights, with all the right mains and trimmings in simple forms with which to pile up on calories. As a bleeding heart vegetarian (take it for whatever it's worth) going on 5 years now, my intake consisted of yoghurt, granola, toast with peanut butter, and some fruit plus an ongoing stream of water. I'm not a coffee or tea drinker, but almost wished I was on this morning. The only consolation I had was a warm, dry pair of shoes, having been able to set them on top of a floor heater for the whole night. They may have only stayed dry for the first few minutes of the stage, but the boost to my morale from this small pleasure was priceless in that moment.

The ride up and out of the camp back to Hwy 35, and the following 4km back down to the finish area from the previous day that was serving as the start for day 2 actually felt closer to its real distance on this morning, as opposed to being caught in some endless time warp at the end of the previous day's stage. I was a bit tardy to the sign in, fiddling with my rear shifter barrel adjuster en route, but settled into my usual spot behind the day's call-ups, which had grown in number from day 1 to include all the category leaders.

Aside from being billed as the longest stage of the event, day 2's main features were presented to us as Canadian Shield granite, and a long 19km finale on a pancake flat, dead straight stretch of gravel rail trail leading into Haliburton. That was flipped almost completely opposite from day 1, which opened with the long road section once we had navigated our brief journey through Buckwallow. The rail trail immediately caught my eye as a red flag, since I have an annoying habit of finding myself isolated on these types of sections in most point to point races, instead of employing more intelligent tactics by partnering up with other riders to share the workload, thereby increasing speed while reducing effort. I vowed to plan ahead well before coming to the rail trail, determined not to fall into my usual trap of labouring along solo.

When the start went it was obvious there wasn't going to be any relaxed "prologue" atmosphere (which I missed most of) within the lead group as displayed on the road section the previous day. As soon as the wide track turned slightly uphill it was game on for the rest of the stage. Even on the exposed track the surface was slippery from overnight dew, and a split second of inattention to the path of my front wheel saw me tumble off into the bushes on my side. The line I had slipped off from was to the far left of the trail, and every other rider was following single file afterwards. I couldn't get back onto the track without stopping the procession of riders, and so I waited... and waited… A plethora of riders continued to pass, with no end in sight to the unbroken line. Finally when I sensed a small gap I threw myself forward onto the saddle, likely lessening any chance of further expansion of our family in the process, and hoped for a quick entry into my pedals so that I wouldn't be responsible for breaking anyone's stride behind me.

Much as I wanted to enact a repeat of the previous day and regain contact with the leaders, the snap wasn't in my legs on this occasion, especially without the benefit of being able to visually track their progress from behind, which was not possible within the wooded area. In no particular order from my hazy memory, I made my way up to and past the women's team leaders Catherine Vipond and Sue Haviland, the solo under 40 women's leader Kate Aardal from Alberta, and my internet nemesis Peter Keiller of the Misfit crew. Peter looked a bit concerned about my fortunes, and did his best to lend me a bit of spirit as I managed to crawl back past him

Scott Bentley of Sound Solutions, who had parlayed an abnormally large gear ratio to a stunning win in the singlespeed category the day before, was next up ahead. By this time we had begun to pass through a few bogs, reminiscent of stage 1. No problem. Sean Ruppel had warned us during the course preview at dinner that Hurricaine Ike had left a bit of water on the day 2 route also. The thought crossed my mind that it was nice to just get it over and done with early in the stage. Scott was quick on his feet, but it seemed that his Herculean efforts of day 1 pushing a big gear had slowed him down slightly on the bike.

Eventually I made my way further up into a group consisting of a pair of red-adorned Pedal Performance riders, Gord Ruder and Justen Winster, and another group of 3 riders in various jerseys that I didn't recognize but who seemed to be tagging along together. My forward progress relative to the other riders halted at this point perhaps a half hour into the stage. I found myself within a group that was matching the best available speed I could muster, and yet by my rough accounting within the confusion of my technical bobble near the start I was certain there were perhaps 5-10 additional riders who had slipped ahead of me than on the previous day. They were all out of sight somewhere ahead, and I had no sense that I was regaining any more ground on them.

What I had assumed would be a smattering of mud pits manifested itself as even more numerous than the previous day, if that were somehow possible. I was beginning to feel like a punch drunk boxer, the bike weighing me down like an anchor, and my morale sunk to a low point. The Pedal Performance duo of Justen and Gord eventually rode off ahead out of sight, leaving me together with the other 3, who I learned with some inquiries were in fact Scott Luscombe (creator of the fabulous Crank the Shield web site), Mike Davidson, and Paul Loughran. They seemed to be a tight-knit group, consisting of Mike and Paul riding together as a 2-person entry, but also riding together with their friend Scott riding solo, giving them the guaranteed resources of 3 riders working together all times. Consequently, I was cautious about asking them if it was OK to latch on to their crew. Although it's not a requirement to ask permission to ride near or with other people in a race, but if you're going to park yourself on someone's wheel and benefit from their work without giving much back in return then you had better ask politely.

A polite, humble request was certainly forthcoming because I really, really needed the help. With my questionable energy level and wavering morale I didn't even trust myself to keep a consistent pace if left on my own. Even as it was hurting me to do so, I dredged up enough willpower to decide that I had to stick with this group. If I pushed myself beyond critical in the process, then so be it. Sometimes racing is as much about what you are willing to risk, as it is about what you can accomplish within your abilities.

Scott was a workhouse, never shying away from being the first of the group to put his front wheel into a water crossing, or scope out the best line through a section of granite. There were vast quantities of both to be had on this day. The variety of Shield rock was impressive. Imagine virtually any shape of formation and we probably rode over it, or often more within it as in through a swimming pool. Dodging a few rock ATVs, and declining the offer of a beer while experiencing our very own "Deliverance" moment passing by a country shack added some local flavour to our journey. We discovered that we had done battle on the race course several times before during 24 hour races at Albion Hills as members of closely matched teams, under their usual moniker of the Long Sault Longshots.

As the stage wore on my more customary physical resources started to creep back into my legs as a sort of second wind, or perhaps it was my first wind considering I had never felt that yet during the stage up until this point. On climbs and road sections it was becoming apparent that my pace was starting to outstrip my new found friends by just a hair, but on an increasing trend. That left me with a quandary to ponder. Do I stay with the group, or forge ahead on my own? Was it bad form to leave them now that my strength had returned after drawing on their pace for the last 3 hours, and what was the possible ramification of riding the rail trail on my own if I didn't find anyone else ahead?

After the climb out of Minden, we caught up to the age 40+ team leaders, the brothers Andrew and Matt Handford of Different Bikes, riding out of B.C. and Alberta respectively. Later on we passed by Imad Elghazal, who like the Handfords I had not seen since the start approximately 4 hours earlier. Imad was off on the side of the course, describing what seemed like quite the horrible set of cramps, but assured us he didn't need any assistance and to his credit finished not far behind us at the end. Near the last of the logging roads, Mike and Paul who had been so steady all day were suddenly behind while Paul and I continued riding. We weren't sure whether it was a mechanical or physical issue, but Scott decided we had to continue on if we were capable of doing so. Shortly afterwards Scott's moment unfortunately arrived, with a slight ebb in his pace, and echoing our previous decision to leave Mike and Paul behind, I continued without him.

After all the promises I made to myself that I would do everything possible to avoid being isolated on the rail trail, that was exactly the position I found myself headed towards. The logging road exited out on to pavement. I coasted for the first couple of hundred meters, waiting to see if anyone would emerge from the forest. The friendly faces didn't appear, and with the renewed will that had returned along with my legs I decided to commit myself with all my remaining resources. There were a few kilometers of gently rolling paved roads that I rapidly put behind me, and finally the head of the rail trail. While it was enlightening to know exactly what remained to finish the stage, 19km of rail trail on low pressure tires after several intense hours in the saddle was no small obstacle.

Based on my condition, and the distance, I estimated that it would take me approximately 35-40 minutes to bring it home to the finish in Haliburton. I set off at a pace that I thought was suitable for a solo time trial of that duration, and used my gearing liberally to make sure I didn't cause any cramping by pushing too high a combination. Even with it being the closing segment of the stage I was concerned about the possibility of becoming dehydrated, with the trail being completely exposed to the afternoon sun at its high point in the sky. Consequently, I kept reminding myself not too get too focused on pedaling, and instead take care to also consume whatever liquids I had left.

Periodically, I looked back to see if any of the riders I left behind were catching up to me, as I would have gladly hooked back up with a group at that point. To my disappointment, the help never came. I had decided to leave any potential help behind, and had no choice other than to make the best of that decision. Several times on the trail my speed decreased noticeably, forcing me to change gears to keep my cadence up. Each time I scanned below my moving bike nervously, trying to ascertain whether it was due to a softer section of trail or whether my legs had finally raised the white flag. Although the sun was uncomfortably warm on my skin at times, I also began to encounter the sickly feeling of cold sweats, which are never a good sign.

Mercifully, indications that I was entering the built up areas of the town of Haliburton were becoming more frequent. For no particular reason I happened to glance behind me one last time and was surprised to see Paul, Mike, and Scott motoring toward me not more than a hundred meters back. I was glad to see that they had come along also without any major difficulties, while at the same time laughing at my own folly for leaving them since the final analysis showed that I probably would have helped all 4 of us reach the line more quickly if I had stuck with my original plan. The smell of relief and playful fun was in the air now, and so I found a final kick to hold off their threesome to the finish. In the last stretch we all rode in past Dave Dermont who was nursing a flat to the finish and rolling along gingerly. Reportedly this was not the only flat he suffered on the day.

However desperately I thought I had needed food after stage 1, the effect was amplified significantly at the finish in Haliburton. Fortunately, the crew had put together a marvelous spread of high carb snacks - just what the doctor ordered! Chocolate chip cookies, bagel sections, muffins, fruit, and drinks were available in copious quantities and I gleefully sampled all of it from one end of the table to the other. In between I popped down even more one bite chocolate bars than I typically steal from my kids every Halloween, and that's a lot of chocolate.

While the designers of the park probably didn't envision a host of muddy mountain bikers wading in their sculptured fountain, the coolness on the legs and feet was like a gift from the gods, and I truthfully don't think it hurt the fountain much either. Most of the other riders who already at the finish when I arrived looked similarly worked over, and exchanged similar comments about the difficulty of the route.

After the initial wave of euphoria from completing the stage waned, I realized that I was quickly becoming chilled in my soaked clothing and fatigued state. From my duffel bag which was available at the line, I gathered up enough items to keep warm on the bus ride to Camp White Pine.

Early results posted at the finish confirmed the carnage I had expected. While it was true that no one passed me once I finally found my way up to my destined group for the day, and in fact passed 4 other riders in the last hour, my losses were still significant. Aside from the top 4 who were far out ahead, I also lost as much as 23 minutes to another rider in my category, 14-15 minutes to several more who were behind me the previous day including my former travel partners Terry Schinkel, Andrew Watson, and Matt Paziuk, and yet again 8-9 minutes back of another bunch;

http://www.cranktheshield.com/9-20.htm

Any cushion I had built up in the general classification versus my close competitors had evaporated with extreme prejudice;

http://www.cranktheshield.com/9-20-GC.htm

While not quite a catastrophic implosion, my lackluster performance did put a serious dent in my aspirations. The top 4 spots had never been within reach, but after that every placing position is meaningful. 5th is very different from 8th, which is very different from 12th. With so many good riders bunched around me in the standings, any improvement on the short day 3 stage would be hard earned indeed.

We didn't have quite enough of time on the shuttle bus to start a chorus of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, but we did receive our dose of excitement for the day as the driver did seemed to think she was behind the wheel of a rally car turning into White Pine, seemingly doing her best to elicit a 4 wheel drift from the yellow behemoth.

As my first task after unloading from the bus, I was keen to wash down my bike so that I could forget about it for the rest of the evening. During the washdown I discovered that out of my 4 total disc brake pads, 1 had a thin wafer of pad material left while the other 3 were down to the bare metal backing plates. Using 20/20 hindsight it was clear that I should have checked my pads after stage 1, which probably would have avoided this, but all were almost new when the event began and I was having a hard time believing that only 8 hours of cross country riding could completely obliterate new brake pads. This was compounded by the fact that I had spare pads for only one of my brakes in my kit, and the other set was an odd duck model that I would never find replacements for with any of the on site mechanical support providers. Oh well, that was a problem I'd have to address later in the day. As I learned later, my experience was shared by almost every other rider, and collectively we completely overran the supplies of all 3 mech crews. Dave Stowe who I had traveled to the race with was forced to ride stage 3 with only 1 brake, and I'm certain he wasn't the only rider facing that scenario or worse.

Camp White Pine's accommodations and facilities were an upgrade from the very serviceable Kanadalore. The biggest problem with the campground was that I couldn't find my cabin, and even with the signboards and maps felt directionally disoriented on the curving roads. After some time I found my cabin and started to acquaint myself with my fellow residents for the night who were already entrenched there, but something seemed a bit wrong and after double checking the cabin assignments it turned out I was in cabin # 8, but in an entirely different group of cabins somewhere else on the property. As a featherweight rider with a history of back troubles, I was starting to become concerned about the cumulative effect of hauling around my overgrown duffel. Even the act of hefting up to rest on my bike's top tube for transport around the campground was beginning to send trickles of pain down my spine.

The shower hut was nearby and I had all my gear with me, so I took the opportunity to get scrubbed up before resuming my cabin quest. After resuming my search I stumbled across Chateau Misfit, thoughtfully tucked away in their own enclave to keep them from being sullied by the sight of surplus gears. These guys are such a bunch of clowns it's hard not to love their rolling debauchery. I took the opportunity to conduct an impromptu racer interview for my daily report for Pedal Magazine with Mark Summers, who had taken over the king of the singlespeeders mantle from his Sound Solutions team mate Scott Bentley, hammering out a virtuoso performance on stage 2 that him way up at the top of his category in the overall. It was clear that Mark wasn't clamouring for media exposure, giving me little more than a few grunts in response to my leading questions. While this supposed interview was taking place Peter and I managed to pitch a few barbs of implied inadequacy at each other as a live extension of our ongoing forum schtick, and at the same time managed to do a verbal ghost write of Mark's responses on his behalf, which were accepted with a nod from Mark, plus a closing grunt for good measure.

Having finally completed my odyssey of the property I located my correct cabin, and watched as more of my bunkmates drifted in throughout the afternoon. In a scene that seemed to be repeating itself in front of every cabin, we set up a makeshift bike shop and helped each other perform all manner of resuscitation and rebuild on our sorely abused steeds. With daylight starting to grow dimmer, pooled resources of mechanical knowledge, tools, and spare parts flowed freely to whomever needed it, in a form of camaraderie that I have rarely experienced even within the friendly confines of mountain biking. It was if we had all entered into an unspoken pact to leave no man behind, in terms of getting everyone's bikes adequately prepared for the next day.

Despite not having replacement pads for one of my brakes, I knew my ace in the hole was a complete spare bike that our team manager Angry Johnny had brought with him for us to cannibalize for spare parts as required. Johnny was helping with the race crew throughout the event. Think of pitching almost 300 bags of up to 70 pounds each both in and out of a truck, multiply it by 3 days (perhaps 100,000 pounds of cumulative lifting?), and that would probably be representative or Johnny's experience at Crank the Shield. Maybe that's why the guy is Angry? Unfortunately for me, Johnny is such a helpful guy that by the time I found him later in the evening he had already given away the entire rear brake on the spare bike to someone else, not realizing that I was also out of commission. As a final backup plan, we decided that since Ted was going back to stay at Johnny's place nearby that night instead of sleeping at the cabin, he would bring back a spare brake assembly for me the following morning along with my fully-dried pair of race shoes.

Dinner fare was a definite notch up on the evolutionary scale, offering a wider variety of dishes and broader palette of tastes within each. As an added bonus, the dining hall itself was large enough to accommodate everyone in a single seating, allowing us all more time to mingle and socialize. My trio of riding mates from the day and I were able to laugh about the rigours of the day, apparently not holding any ill will toward me after our split late in the stage. All was forgiven and forgotten over a shared meal.

Following dinner, during which I compiled a few more racer interviews, I retreated to the campground office once again to prepare and my stage report to Pedal Mag, this time along with a few photos courtesy of Tom Ruppel, who managed to incriminate various racers in compromising expressions blending exhilaration and agony. The report was coming together nicely and just required a few closing words, when an errant click of the mouse while switching between programs zapped my entire composition from existence. I directed a few choice words from my vocabulary at the unblinking screen in front of me to no avail, and then began to rewrite my report from scratch, undoubtedly missing some of its original flair. With the submission uploaded around 11pm, I was ready to retreat back to the cabin, where most of my bunkmates were already fast asleep. Unable to locate my headlamp, I fumbled awkwardly within my duffel for the number of items I needed to get myself down for the night, all the while trying to keep the noise down out of respect for those already asleep.

Outside, a couple of my cabin mates had made a campfire. While it never threatened to morph into a full-fledged sing along with a strumming guitar materializing in our midst, a few thoughtful musings about the event and riding mountain bikes in general floated over the flames between us. After dousing the fire and settling in for the night, I prayed to whoever would listen for a decent night's sleep instead of a repeat performance of insomnia.

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Day 3 report to follow sometime later this week.
 

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Evil Jr.
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6,859 Posts
Wow, not being able to read Chapter 1 yesterday means my cup runneth over today! :)

Another accurate depiction of Day 2, which was by far our best day. We put 20-45 minutes into some of the people that I was "using" as benchmarks by the time we crossed the line. I remember some of our cabin-mates still walking up, caked in mud, as we made our way to dinner!

Racing Mixed was a totally new experience to me and our plan was simple: I do all the pulling in order to deliver Mrs. Monster to the finish as quickly as she could muster.

The rail-to-trail in particular was a strange revelation. Considering we were riding single-speeds, I fully expected great trains of geared riders to come whizzing by us at regular intervals. Not so! Though we sometimes spied "the chase" when looking back, we never felt the sting of the catch. In fact, we were a few minutes clear of the next closest group even after 19km of riding with our heads down. :eekster:
 

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Looking for Adventure
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1,060 Posts
Yes, I believe you got it now! I was capitvated with your prose. I would have worried if you described Stage 2 as anything but unforgiving and unpredictable. Nice to know the front guys are actually human!

And who could forget about the Haliburton park fountain......an oasis at the end of that stage!
 

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1,590 Posts
Great write ups Matt...Yeah, I think many us likely found this was the most unforging rail trail known to man at that point of the day. I remember raising my hands in exhilaration when seeing the start of it only to be firing explatives left and right less than a km into it. Nothing like 15 km of loose rail trail, followed by another four km of not so bad rail trail...Good times!
 
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